Despite the scathing rhetoric that preceded last weekend’s debt and budget deal, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden stand to benefit politically.
Biden and McCarthy and their aides were working feverishly on Tuesday to make sure the deal doesn’t fall through when it comes to the House on Wednesday.
McCarthy has been particularly active, trying to stem the spread of defections among far-right Tories, even as he projected confidence the bill would pass before Monday’s deadline to avoid a calamitous default on the country’s debt.
The House Rules Committee, a crucial first test, agreed to a 7-6 vote to move the pact forward. Two Republicans joined the Democrats in voting no. The bill would increase the debt limit by two years in exchange for capping some spending and adding new work requirements for some safety net programs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated Tuesday that the measure would reduce the projected deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.
If the deal passes, McCarthy, a Republican from Bakersfield whose grip on the presidency began as one of the most tenuous in history, can claim he won concessions from a Democratic White House that few of its recent predecessors have been able to obtain. Getting the votes on his side to cement the deal would also strengthen his standing with Biden as a credible negotiator who can deliver on his promises, despite his party’s factional nature.
Biden, who has sold himself as a compromise in an era of growing hyper-partisanship, can argue that he navigated a divided government.
Failure to pass a bill could sink the political fortunes of both men, especially if the nation defaults.
McCarthy’s biggest risk remains a hard-right challenge that has defeated the last two Republican speakers, John A. Boehner and Paul D. Ryan. And it remains a lingering concern.
“McCarthy has done his best to some degree with this deal,” Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Colorado, said Tuesday at a press conference of far-right Freedom Caucus members who oppose the agreement. “But we made it clear at the start of this Congress that we would not be carrying on business as usual here in Washington, DC.”
She and others at the press conference lambasted many of McCarthy’s key selling points — such as trimmings to Biden’s plan to beef up the Internal Revenue Service and new limits on future spending — as ” symbolism”, “full of cosmetics” and a tool to pay more “woke armed government”. The official budget estimate, which came out later in the day, showed that proposed changes to eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would actually increase the number of Americans receiving food stamps despite Republicans’ desire to reduce the SNAP with new work requirements.
But only a dozen hard-line Republicans appeared with Boebert. McCarthy can make up for their loss with expected help from Democratic members.
But his assertion over the weekend that the vast majority of Republican House members would support the deal appeared to be optimistic.
“Initially, we heard that 95% of the House Republican Conference supported the deal. That doesn’t appear to be the case,” said House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York. “But what we’re also committed to is that House Republicans deliver on their promise to produce at least 150 votes, period.”
The biggest question for McCarthy outside of the immediate vote — and who is likely to dog him as long as he remains the best Republican in the House — is whether Republicans will stick with him going forward. To win the job this year, he struck a deal with party insurgents that allows a single lawmaker to force a vote to impeach him.
Rep. Dan Bishop (RN.C.) said Tuesday he was considering the maneuver, known as an evacuation motion.
“If you can’t lead with credibility, how can you be the leader? Bishop said in a separate interview with reporters.
But the deal appeals to the less extreme members of both parties, and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), the No. 3 Republican, expressed confidence Tuesday that leaders would muster enough support to pass the bill. law without any help from the Democrats despite his narrow margin of party government.
In addition to averting economic disaster, the plan is what most Americans say they want, even if they don’t understand the details of the lengthy budget document: compromise.
An overwhelming 70% of Americans want federal leaders to find political common ground, according to a February PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll. That number was highest among Democrats (83%), followed by self-described independents (69%), the two groups Biden needs most as he enters a re-election campaign with dismal marks on his personal approval.
The president’s electoral coalition contains a large group of centrists who wanted to see a more functional version of Washington after the rancor of the Trump years. It also includes progressives who are more wary of the debt compromise, especially the addition of new work requirements for some SNAP recipients, but are unlikely to quit the president or stay home in the next election. .
David Axelrod, former President Obama’s top political adviser, said it “strengthens his ability to tame an unruly process” and adds to Biden’s growing record of bipartisan accomplishments. Axelrod said it was worth Biden negotiating with McCarthy to raise the country’s debt ceiling, despite “turmoil from his own base,” because of the greater risk to the overall economy.
“The most important political advantage is the absence of catastrophe,” Axelrod said. “I’m not sure this deal will be on voters’ minds come fall 24. But an economic meltdown of the kind that a default would have caused surely would have. »
Axelrod and other Democrats said Biden got everything he could expect in a divided government without losing much to his environmental and anti-poverty agenda.
Biden let McCarthy serve as the public spokesperson for the deal, knowing he’s having the hardest time selling.
“One of the things I hear some of you say is, ‘Why doesn’t Biden say how good a deal this is? ‘” the president told reporters on Monday. “Do you think this will help me pass it?” No. That’s why you don’t negotiate very well.
Its budget director, Shalanda Young, highlighted the give-and-take aspect of the negotiations as she briefed reporters at the White House on Tuesday.
“I’ve worked in many divided government situations,” Young said. “That’s where you would expect a bipartisan deal to land. That’s just the reality. There’s no unified government. They have ideas. We have to listen to them.”
She declined to say how many votes she expected McCarthy to deliver: “We’re going to leave it up to them to determine the votes and how they get there.”
McCarthy’s sale is more difficult because many GOP lawmakers represent overwhelmingly Republican districts and have the most to fear from the party’s most conservative voters, who could vote them out in a primary election.
Although a majority of Republicans (54%) want a compromise, there is a significant faction that does not want it and often holds a veto. The February Marist poll found 44% of Republicans said they want politicians to stand on principle, even if it creates more deadlocks.
Times writers Erin B. Logan and Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.